Cambodian monks clash with police

TODAY (Singapore)

PHNOM PENH – About 40 Cambodian Buddhist monks fought with police (picture), knocking one unconscious before being beaten back with batons, at a demonstration yesterday to demand religious freedom for monks in neighbouring Vietnam.

At least 16 people were injured in the clash that broke out when 100 police refused to allow the monks to approach the Vietnamese Embassy in the Cambodian capital.

Police used batons to beat back the monks, who responded by pelting water bottles at the police, said Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naroth.

He said six police officers were injured, including the man knocked unconscious, while Cambodian rights watchdog Adhoc said at least 10 monks were hurt.

The Buddhists had marched to the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh to submit a petition against the authorities’ alleged mistreatment of Buddhist monks in the communist country.

The protesters accused the Vietnamese authorities of arresting and defrocking several ethnic Cambodian monks over the past few months.

“They wanted to enter the Vietnamese Embassy, but police asked them to move back. The monks then beat and kicked the police. The officers had to use force to protect themselves,” the police chief said. “What the monks did was illegal.”

One of the monks, 20-year-old Thach Mony, told AFP that they simply wanted to drop off their petition calling for the release of Cambodian monk Tim Sakhorn and for the return of land that Cambodia claims was seized by Vietnam in 1978.

“But the police misunderstood us,” he said. “They blocked us and they used violence on us.”

Vietnam said in early August that it had arrested Tim Sakhorn on charges of undermining national unity for organising anti-Vietnam demonstrations in neighbouring Cambodia. He was the abbot of a Cambodian pagoda, but was defrocked in late June. He disappeared amid unconfirmed reports that he was detained by the Cambodian authorities pending deportation to Vietnam.

The Vietnamese authorities allow only a few state-sponsored religious organisations to operate inside the country, a situation that has led to altercations there with some groups including Buddhists.

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